2014 is notable for at least two anniversaries: World War I began 100 years ago and the last of the Baby Boomers turn fifty. That means there are a whole lotta women going through the change right now. Sandra Tsing Loh and Annabelle Gurwitch both live in California, both are in the performing arts, both turned 50 about the same time, both went through menopause at the same time their children were going through puberty, and both have at least one aging parent who needs help. And now, both have written about the whole sad, sorry and sometimes unexpectedly humorous experience in books published in guess what year - 2014!
Raising my son, Elan, has been a truly educational experience (also fun, scary, hard, or easy depending on what stage he and I happened to be in at the time). In some ways, he has qualities that remind me of myself and there are other parts that seem directly attributable to his dad. And then there are other things that are totally and uniquely his. One of those is his love of performing and specifically making hip hop music. I am simply in awe of Elan - he has been able to "work a crowd" since he was in middle school and his live performances have only become more and more inspiring over the years.
I’ve been asked to find books on hip-hop for numerous patrons so I decided to have a list of the best books on this subject ready for the next time I’m asked. I thought Elan would be my best source for coming up with a definitive list from the MCL catalog and in the course of formulating his list, he also wrote a brief essay on how he developed his love for hip-hop music.
Guest blogger Elan: From casual listener to hip-hop addict
When I first began listening to hip-hop at around eight, my drive may have been to distance myself from my parents’ music: The Beatles, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, etc. My classmates were discovering that the radio contained a station that played exactly what they wanted - the mainstream rap of the late 90s. These were good days.
It cannot be understated how much of an effect our peers truly have during adolescence. Three of my friends were making the leap from listener to participant and between rapping, beat making, and DJing, they had half the elements of hip-hop covered by sixth grade. A pivotal album was heard that year, Blazing Arrow, by the duo Blackalicious. We were blown away by the originality, the musicality of Chief Excel's production, Gift of Gab's insane lyrical dexterity, and the cohesiveness of the album itself. After only a single listen, we knew that contributing to this art form would be a life-long love affair.
In high school, making music became our escape from the mundane curriculum we were subjected to. It became my only creative outlet as we began putting on local shows for our peers. Although I was actively seeking out new artists to enjoy and learn from, my hip-hop education came from Vursatyl and Rev. Shines of the Portland hip-hop trio, The Lifesavas. Vursatyl and Shines held an afterschool class at Jefferson High School called You Must Learn. That's when I began studying the rich history of this culture. Books like Jeff Chang’s, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, and the writings of Michael Eric Dyson and Tricia Rose, helped me realize how BIG this thing we call Hip-Hop truly is.
These days I’m still making music, still reading, still putting on local shows, and I’m harnessing hip-hop as a tool for education and empowerment through my work with the non-profit, The Morpheus Youth Project.
If you’d like to do your own exploration of hip-hop culture, check out some of these books.
Two of the books I’ve read this year involve travel by unusual vehicles.
In the thoughtful The Man with the Compound Eyes Atile'i lives on the imaginary and fastastical island of Wayo Wayo, where second sons are exiled into the sea, never to return, and probably to die. Atile'i washes up on a floating island of garbage — the non-imaginary Great Pacific Garbage Patch, rendered fantastically stable enough to support a young man. He has no words for the things that carry him — he has never seen a plastic bag, or a plastic toy, or a plastic anything. The gyre carries him to Taiwan, to an eroding coast and a woman who cannot accept several of the cornerstones of her reality, including the fact that her house is falling into the sea.
In the much poppier Shovel Ready our hero Spademan is a hitman. Generally his hits are simple, because in his world most of the people spend their lives in wired sarcophagi, their consciousness moving through a sophisticated virtual reality (the ‘limnosphere’) while their bodies lie fallow. Spademan eschews this escape, living in the concrete world made miserable by a series of dirty bombs. However, before the book is over he has to travel into the limnosphere himself — and finds it has miseries of its own.
Check out some other books with unique modes of travel in the list My other car is a….
As a child, my favorite toy and tireless trivia companion was a robot named 2-XL. Ok, he was actually an 8-track player, shaped like a robot and designed by the Mego Toy Corporation to ask trivia and then offer up scripted retorts based upon my answer. We spent many rainy afternoons testing my knowledge of Babe Ruth’s batting average and who exactly is buried in Grant’s Tomb. You know, the kind of thing all third graders ought to know.
I still love trivia, but nowadays I discover it in reading, rather than memorizing 8-track recordings. There are some books brimming with so many fascinating facts, I have to put them down momentarily to share. In 2-XL's absence, my husband provides a patient ear but what these books really ought to have is their very own trivia night dedicated to them.
Does a ‘mouche’ worn on a man's left cheek in 1790s England reflect his political leanings as a Whig or a Tory?
When filming Sometimes a Great Notion on the Oregon Coast, which local beer did Paul Newman consider to be 'the closest substitute' for his beloved Coors?
Can you name the feather-friendly fashion designer who created the original costumes for the ongoing Las Vegas review 'Jubilee!'?
Already know the correct answers?
To quote my old pal 2-XL: "It is amazing that big brain of yours fits into the head of a child. Nice answer.”
Discover the answers to these trivia questions and more with books on this list.
After checking out more cookbooks than any one can realistically get through, I’ve acquired a fair number of repeatable recipes. I wanted to share these finds in the event that you too have gotten bored of your usual go-to’s. These cookbooks have more to offer than just one recipe, but here’s what lured me into the kitchen:
Korean-inspired Dumplings from L.A. Son by Roy Choi: Well-seasoned (garlic, ginger, scallions, and hot pepper powder), and meaty (tofu, beef, and pork), these pot stickers taste revelatory. Double the recipe and freeze some for later!
Roast Chicken with Caramelized Shallots and Fingerling Potatoes from 150 Things to Make With Roast Chicken, and 50 Ways to Roast It by Tony Rosenfeld: There are so few ingredients and so much flavor packed in this recipe. I love that you get a main entree and a side dish all in one.
Kidney Bean Masala from The Great Vegan Bean Book by Kathy Hester: In this recipe, boring ole kidney beans get transformed into a delicious garlicky, gingery curry.
Chandra Malai Kofta from Isa Does It by Isa Moskowitz: Crispy zucchini-chickpea patties are added to a creamy curry sauce. Even if you didn’t want to go through the trouble of making kofta, make the sauce and add roasted cauliflower. Just do it.
Mushroom Lasagna from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison: When I need a shake-up from macaroni and cheese, I have to make this white sauce lasagna. No boil lasagna noodles never got so fancy.
Stay tuned for my next installment toward the end of the year. I’ll lug more cookbooks home and try them out so you don’t have to!
I'm a library geek, so of course I was disappointed when someone in the press asked Michelle Obama if she and Barack still read to Sasha and Malia at bedtime, and she replied, “No-- the girls are old enough to read their own books themselves now." The Obama girls were about 8 and 11 at the time. I know that the President and his wife are very busy, and they seem to be pretty wonderful parents, but I was still a little sad.
Working in the library, I am often asked to help parents find books to start with when their children are ready to begin listening to chapter books. And don't get me wrong, I'm very enthusiastic about Charlotte's Web and The Boxcar Children. But I'm always especially excited to get a question about read-alouds for older children, kids who are at least 8 or 9 years old. Reading to older kids is a great way to keep your bond with them strong, and it's so much fun! They get the jokes. They're more able to feel compassion for the characters, to follow an intricate plot, to feel surprised by what happens, more likely to be moved and delighted by a story in the same exact way that you are, which is such a pleasure.
I basically decided to have children so that I could read to them, and reading books together has been a deep and sustained joy, just as good as I imagined it would be. My younger child, who is 10, still lets me read to him if I find something that grabs him right from the start. I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk to him just last night. This rollicking little book features the following: a brilliant, time-traveling scientist who is also a stegosaurus; pirates, vampires, a volcano, snotlike green aliens with a penchant for redecorating new planets, and two innocent children who are in desperate need of something to pour over their cereal at breakfast. At one point, we were laughing so hard that if we’d been drinking milk, it would have squirted out our nostrils. We laughed so hard that we cried. I couldn’t read the next line until we settled down after a full five minutes of helpless laughter-- at which point, we started all over again. When I thought of it this morning, I started laughing out loud in the shower.
It won't last forever, but reading books at bedtime has been a wonderful thing to share with my kids. Here’s a list of great read-alouds for you to enjoy with the not-so-little children in your life.
A dark and stormy night. A toppled lamp with an outstretched hand lying on the floor by its base. A knock on the door when you are least expecting it. All of these elements can add to a great thriller. I have been reading thrillers for more years than I care to count. I devour them. I do branch out and read other types of books, but I am always drawn back to the thriller. As it says in my My Librarian profile, I like it when bad things happen, but I prefer them to stay on the page. Sometimes I wonder, why is that?
Perhaps spending my childhood reading through every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden mystery sparked my interest. Aside from a brief foray into science fiction and vampire lit (a requirement for every teen, I've come to believe), I stuck with suspense. As I got older, the books only got darker, more intriguing, and, yes, sometimes a bit violent. I'm a pretty perky person by nature, and sometimes folks are surprised to hear that I most enjoy reading about terrible things happening to people. I just figure that I get to relieve all of my dark tendencies on the pages of my books, and that leaves room in my heart and my head to enjoy the life that surrounds me!
If you've never given thrillers a chance, might I be tempted to persuade you? If you like to become attached to a character, you are not alone. Series thrillers are abundant, and allow you, dear reader, to become involved with the often colorful cast of characters. Seeing as it is summertime, why not start a new series, preferably read by flashlight in your backyard tent late at night.
This last Saturday I went to the Portland Zine Symposium at the Ambridge Event Center. I get so excited attending this event every year. Going to the Zine Symposium has me thinking about zines again. This is where I wish I could read everything. Now that would be a superpower. Reading and absorbing what you are reading at the speed of light!
I digress. What is a zine you might ask? A zine is an independent publication or, as a 6th grader told me, it’s a “homemade magazine.” Want to read something different? Something perhaps cutting edge? Off the grid? Zine authors are the voices that typically aren’t heard in the mainstream press. We have a large collection of zines you can find at Holgate, Belmont, North Portland and Central Library. There are zines about food, religion, politics, health, pets, comics and really just about everything. I made a list of some basic zines for you. Check them out. And let me know if you find out a way to get that reading superpower, okay?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a classic of children’s literature, and as such, I feel a little guilty admitting I’ve never read it. It’s true. I felt even more so and a bit foolish when I finally got around to reading The Making of a Marchioness. It seems wrong to have ignored such a charming story for so long. It is a Cinderella story for grown ups. I can’t quite believe I’m championing Cinderella for adult women, but there you are. I think perhaps that particular fairy tale gets a bad wrap. I’m a feminist, I get it, but there are times in a grown woman’s life that call for just that (I know because I’m having one just now).
Emily Fox-Setton is a strong capable woman in her own right who has her default set to happy. She is a character you can admire and one for whom you wish all good things. It may not be politically correct, but it does have the power to make you forget you’ve been working as hard as a scullery maid yourself and only just making it. Yes, it is a love story and yes she essentially becomes a kept woman. Is it a practical or wise thing? No, possibly not. But it makes her exquisitely happy while it lasts, and let’s admit it...it is nice to have things taken care of once in a while. There is nothing wrong with a happy ending, and when you can’t quite pull one off in real life—try fiction, it’s easier.
Today I wanted to showcase the prolific versatility of the great storyteller, Joe R. Lansdale. Known primarily for his mystery and suspense novels including the Edgar Award-winning The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Edge of Dark Water, The Thicket, and his Hap and Leonard series, the consistently entertaining East Texas author started out writing in every other genre, mainly horror, sci-fi, and Weird Westerns. I champion writers who continue to create the short story and Lansdale is a master of the form, using its limitations to sharpen his reliable trademarks of great dialogue, suspense, irony, violence, humor, and diverse, breathable characters. His novella Bubba Ho-Tep was adapted into a hilarious film starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis.
As of this post Multnomah County Library has over 130 materials featuring his words. They include seven graphic novels, twenty-one digital titles (two are e-book only), one young adult novel, and his stories are featured in no less than fifty-eight anthologies, four as editor. It was difficult to choose which type of booklist I was going to compile for this post, as there are so many wells to siphon in his body of work. In my opinion, Lansdale perfected the Weird Western tale and I highlighted his offerings in an earlier blog post and booklist(s). His mystery-suspense canon would take up at least four to five lists so I decided to show MCL’s collection of his horror tales and comic scripts.
No matter the setting, characters, plot, or pace, Lansdale writes with a blazing, maverick style and he will make sure you get your money’s worth. But his narratives aren’t cheap, lazy, or hacky, his characters you can relate to whether you love or hate them. He is a breed of storyteller that you want spinning yarns by the campfire on a spooky wilderness night or one that reminds you of a vibrant, jolly uncle who always has a tale at the ready. Buy the ticket and explore them all, his imagination has a selection for all readers.
What is it about you that makes my children bound out of bed at 6:00 a.m., ready for action and aiming their destructive laser beams at any hilariously misguided idea I had for a few minutes of extra sleep? School Year never did that.
'Just when you're beginning to think pretty well of people, you run across somebody who puts sugar on sliced tomatoes.' Will Cuppy is a master of the written word. Now, maybe your family doesn't put sugar on their sliced tomatoes. But if they do, like mine, then you understand the genius of this quote.
Never heard of Will Cuppy? Allow me to introduce you. An American humorist and journalist, Cuppy was best-known for his mock-scientific observations of nature. Born in 1884 in Indiana, Cuppy lived and wrote for many years in New York, before taking his own life in 1949. Writing funny but factual magazine articles was Cuppy's real talent. Many of Cuppy's articles for The New Yorker and other magazines were later collected as books, including How to Attract the Wombat, one of my personal favorites. I mean, who doesn't want to know how to swat a fly? This book will tell you just that, in an article in which Cuppy codifies the essentials of this simple activity in ten hilarious principles. These articles are not necessarily factual though they are equally not untrue. Cuppy writes short, darkly humorous articles, perfect for when one only has a few minutes to read, and needs a laugh. We also read them out loud in our house, and that is real hoot!
Cuppy was reclusive and cultivated the image of a curmudgeon, but he had many friends in New York's literary circles. If you are a fan of writings from the golden age of humor (late 1920's-early 1950's), writers such as Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and S.J. Perelman, then I urge you to seek out Will Cuppy's works. Multnomah County Library owns several, and our friendly staff is always available to help you locate more Will Cuppy via Interlibrary Loan. Happy reading!
A while back I told all ya’ll about The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Keane. Loved it. It inspired me to order up a poster of the periodic table and stick it on my living room wall, thinking that if it was in front of my eyeballs, there may be some passive absorption. It kinda worked--I learned the noble gases, but really it was just the pressure of a pub trivia team that inspired that. Still I want to understand this stuff at a level higher than my C in high school chemistry.
In an effort to up my game I watched Hunting the Elements by PBS/NOVA. I’ll be honest, based on the boring cover, my hopes were not terribly high. It was ~amazing~. One dude actually made a wooden periodic table, the size of a real dining room table, and gave each element its own little compartment. If I had that in my house I could pick up and hold a sample of molybdenum. Super cool and very practical. There are enough violent explosions and deadly gases throughout to keep things lively, plus who wouldn’t love to see how gold bricks are made?
The book, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements, is essentially a field guide, just two pages per element--one a color picture of the element and the other its most interesting info. Platinum, for example, is a precious metal used all the time in jewelry, as we know, but it’s also essential in your car’s catalytic converter.
So, in my expert opinion as an armchair science girl, I think anyone with an interest would love the dvd. Have a kid who loves kitchen-science experiments? Watch it with them. But also, anyone who may struggle with a chemistry class in the near future might like both in combination. Perhaps even as a preemptive strike at understanding before the struggle begins. Seeing and hearing info in a different way can make a huge, helpful difference . It certainly did for me.
1. You can be as brave as the pioneers. Those hearty, independent people didn’t shy away from the sometimes elusive, convoluted language of the Bard. In fact they often packed it right next to that other elusive convoluted book, the Bible.
2. You can amaze your friends and confuse your enemies by the brilliance of your insults. Instead of shouting out F*** you when you are nearly sideswiped on your bike you can calmly cry out “Hast thou never an eye in thy head?” (Henry IV, pt.1 )
...Or maybe your roommate eats the last piece of your favorite pie- you shake your fist and bellow:
“Thou elvish mark’d, abortive rooting hog”(Richard III) and walk dismissively away.
3. You can gracefully free yourself of all that anger directed against the teachers who made you hate Shakespeare. Perhaps some teacher made them hate it too.
4. Shakespeare is packed with the excitement and adventure of human passion. His stories breathe with as much energy and meaning as when they were written 300 years ago. Sure, the language can be a challenge, but remember they ARE plays - meant to be seen and experienced. Try the many film representations - especially those by the BBC. Or for a more complete experience, watch a play performed live.
So go ahead. Read Shakespeare. You might just wonder why you waited so long.
What do writers need? Virginia Woolf famously said that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (in the essay A Room of One’s Own), but of course that’s not all, and not for everyone (men, poets, playwrights…). Writers need time, and space to pursue their craft. Writers need support, which can take the form of opportunities to read aloud, or to hear other writers talking about writing, or a community of supportive critical readers.
There are lots of organizations in the Portland area that offer resources for writers! Some are free, others are cheap (though not all). They involve various commitments of time. Here are some local organizations, roughly grouped - but you’ll see that they are hard to categorize…
Writing groups, workshops, and classes
The Attic Institute presents workshops, classes, and individual consultation about writing projects.
Lewis and Clark Northwest Writing Institute offers classes for community members.
The Multnomah Arts Center offers some wonderful literary arts classes.
PDX Writers facilitates workshops and retreats.
Portland State University has a few different academic programs in creative writing.
VoiceCatcher is a nonprofit connecting and empowering women writers in Portland.
Write Around Portland offers free creative writing workshops in social service settings, and creates publication and reading opportunities for workshop participants.
The Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) offers resources and workshops related to printing and book-making. They also have certificate programs in creative nonfiction/fiction, poetry, and comics/graphic novels.
Oregon Poetry Association, Oregon’s oldest and largest literary organization, offers community, contests, and conferences.
Oregon Writers Colony offers community, conferences and workshops, and the use of a beach house writing retreat!
Willamette Writers hosts regular meetings for the exchange of ideas related to writing and craft.
Literary Arts’ programs include Portland Arts and Lectures, Writers in the Schools, the Oregon Book Awards and Fellowships, and Delve Readers Seminars.
There are many different reading series in Portland! You could head out to hear writers read their work at the Free Range Poetry series at the Northwest Library, Mountain Writers series, the Spare Room series, the Loggernaut reading series, the submission reading series, Burnt Tongue, Unchaste Readers, or The Switch... you could catch a reading when the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (FWWA) Pacific Northwest Reading Series has a Portland event... or you could see one of the many readings at Powell's Books! The Notable Portland column on The Rumpus lists select awesome events, mostly literary oriented.
Ooligan Press’s Write to Publish Conference aims to demystify the publishing industry for emerging writers.
At the Portland Zine Symposium, zine and minicomic creators sell and trade their self-published creations.
Wordstock is Portland’s biggest annual literary festival, featuring author readings, writing contests, workshops, exhibits and a book fair.
Oregon Authors is a great general resource for information about authors in Oregon! The site is a collaboration between Oregon Library Association and Oregon Center for the Book. It includes a great list of readers and writers groups in Oregon.
Last but certainly not least, Multnomah County’s Central Library offers the Sterling Room for Writers, where writers can find a quiet work space in close proximity to all the resources the library has to offer. Interested writers must submit an application and be approved to gain access to the room.
Ahh, summertime in Portland. Sunshine and strawberries and going to the river. Cookouts and bike rides and reading in the hammock. Summertime in Portland also means that it’s time for the Portland Zine Symposium! If you’ve never been, the Portland Zine Symposium is an annual zine fair and tabling extravaganza that brings folks in from all over the world. This conference highlights do it yourself culture, small presses, and self-published comics and publications of all kinds, with ongoing workshops and events over the course of two days. It’s been happening every summer since 2001. And did I mention that it’s all free?!
Here’s where the library comes in. Not only will we have a table at the Zine Symposium, but did you know the library also has over 1,000 circulating zines in our collection, many of them from local authors and artists? And that we have tons of great resources to assist in whatever phase of the creative process you may be in, whether you are a veteran, do-it-with-your-eyes-closed zinester or you have never made a zine in your life (but have always wanted to)? One of my favorite books on all things zine-making is Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine? I personally loved it so much, I had it checked out for almost a year--the beauty of renewing!
If this sounds like it’s right up your alley, be sure to check out our table the weekend of July 12th and 13th. We’ll be there making library cards and highlighting self-publishing resources from our collection, as well as zines that you can check out. Don’t have a card? No problem! We can make you one of those too. We’ll also be roaming around and scoping out other tables, looking for zines to purchase to add to our ever-growing zine collection. This is the most exciting part! So if you find yourself at the Zine Symposium, don’t be shy--be sure to come by and say hello!
Sometimes children do horrible things. Sometimes children are horrible things. Well, in fiction, at any rate.
Melanie spends most of her life alone in a cell. Every weekday morning she is bound by soldiers that handle her with prods and cuffs, then take her to a schoolroom full of similarly restrained children. There Melanie, with her voracious and brilliant mind, learns a great deal about the world that used to be. Her favorite lessons are from her beloved teacher Miss Justineau, who teaches her about the Greek myths.
Slowly Melanie learns that her life is the way it is for a good reason. At first she cannot believe she is so dangerous, but she bravely, impressively, does accept it. In fact, she practically embraces it, using her power to protect the one person she loves.
Carey has created an ultra-compelling story of a lovable fiend. For other stories with really, really bad children check out the list My beloved monster.
Just as often as I judge a book by its cover, I judge it by its title. I love a title that hints at irony and leaves me thinking- "well that can't really be what the book is about." Sometimes my curiosity is rewarded with a really great story.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is one of the most delightful and original books I’ve read in recent memory. Cleverly presented as a self-help book, author Mohsin Hamid lays out each chapter as a step to becoming filthy rich in an unnamed Asian country. The second-person narrative immediately drawns you into the story, but when step three: Don’t Fall in Love, proves impossible to adhere to, you may find yourself asking, as Hamid does:
“Is getting filthy rich still your goal above all goals, your be-all and end-all, the mist-shrouded high-altitude spawning pond to your inner salmon?”
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is indeed a book about crazy rich Asians. Chinese American Rachel Chu, has no idea her low-key boyfriend of two years, Nick Young is one of Asia’s wealthiest and most eligible bachelors when she agrees to accompany him home to Singapore for the summer.
Once in Singapore, hilarious stories of excess, evil bridesmaids, scheming mothers, couture catfights and the most over-the-top wedding imaginable ensue. This book is crazy fun reading and delivers all the glamour of the Jackie Collin’s novels I devoured off my mom’s bookshelf as a teen. But it's not all superficial fluff inside this gold cover: Crazy Rich Asians is also a reflection on family, tradition, and the things in life worth fighting for. If that doesn't appeal to you, the mouth-watering descriptions of Singapore street food ought to. It's not always about the money.